SEO: Google Cracks Open Its Black Box

April 16th, 2007


Originally published in Practical eCommerce

Wouldn’t it be great if Google offered insight into how your website stacks up against its super-secret algorithms? What ails your site when it comes to SEO and what could be done better? Google Webmaster Central ( does just that, by offering a plethora of diagnostic and statistical tools, advice, answers and peer support to SEOs and webmasters.

Webmaster Central began its life as Google Sitemaps, a protocol for submitting a list of your URLs to Google. With it you can let Googlebot know how you want your site crawled. Sitemaps still exists; but the breadth of services expanded so much that it warranted Google changing the name of its webmaster resource area to Webmaster Central last August.

What are some of those services? In a recent interview, Vanessa Fox, product manager at Google Webmaster Central, offered some detail about those tools and resources (interview audio available at

First, at Webmaster Central, you can be informed if your site is being penalized for a violation, or if it has malware on it, or if Googlebot can’t gain access. Furthermore, the Link Reporting Tool reveals virtually all the links to pages on your site, including the ones that are most often linked, as well as inbound links and internal links. And the PageRank Tool tells you which of your pages has the highest PageRank each month (often it’s not those you expect!) along with a graph that shows the PageRank distribution across all your pages.

If you aren’t ranking well for a particular product or category, you can use these tools to identify missed opportunities or previously unnoticed mistakes. For example, perhaps you have inadvertently severed an internal link to a page you hope will rank well. Webmaster Central’s reports would reveal this problem, which you could then rectify by linking to it from one or more pages well-endowed with PageRank.

Other reports reveal the queries that most often return your site in the search results and the level of traffic those SERPs (search engine results pages) received. How else could you learn which pages of your site receive many impressions in the SERPs but very few clickthroughs? Certainly not through log file analysis!

Google shares which words appear most on your site, and which words are used most often in the anchor text of inbound links.

“If you think your site should be ranking for a word but it doesn’t show up as one of the common words on your site, or as a link to your site, then you may need to optimize a little better for that particular phrase,” Vanessa advises.

Of course you should check whether those words are popular with searchers or not. For that, Webmaster Central offers the Keyword Popularity Data Tool, in order to spot trends and view historical data on the keywords you most care about.

Google also has you covered when it comes to crawlability diagnostics. Webmaster Central reveals the pages that were blocked when Google tried to crawl them. It will also tell you the crawl rate of your site â?? i.e., how many pages per day, how much data are downloaded, and how long it takes to download a page.

If your site operates at two locations, one at and one at, your PageRank will be split across the two sites, resulting in poorer rankings due to the dilution effect. Webmaster Central has a tool to help you rectify this, where you can specify which version you want indexed. That’s handy, but the best scenario â?? as I have mentioned in numerous SEO Report Cards â?? is to do a 301 redirect to aggregate both versions into one. It certainly won’t hurt to use the tool within Webmaster Central as an additional measure.

That’s an invaluable list of tools, wouldn’t you agree? On top of that, there’s also the Webmaster Central blog and the Google Webmaster Help discussion forum. On my wishlist of tools to add to Webmaster Central is the ability to see which of your own site’s pages appear in the Supplemental Index. Let’s hope that Google considers my suggestion.

In the meantime, go sign up for Google Webmaster Central and verify your site. You’ll be glad you did.